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Unlocking Africa’s potential

ACI Africa’s secretary general, Ali Tounsi, considers some of the challenges and opportunities facing the continent’s airports.

A young population, growing labour force, accelerating adoption of new technology and urbanisation – according to the United Nations an additional 187 million Africans will live in cities in the next decade – are all factors that favour future economic growth, and subsequently aviation development, across Africa.

In facts and figures, the air transport industry generated an estimated 381,000 jobs across the continent in 2014, according to the Air Transport Action Group.

Indeed, some 37,000 people (10% of the total) worked for airport operators and 170,300 jobs (45%) worked on-site at airports in retail outlets, restaurants, hotels, and so on. Including direct, indirect, induced and catalytic segments, air transport in Africa generates in excess of $72.5 billion in gross domestic product.

However, Africa is also a region that faces many challenges. While African aviation continues to be stifled by security concerns and the threat of terrorism, lack of volume, protectionism, currency complications and sluggish growth in income levels in some key markets, it is expected to emerge from this weakened state in the medium-term, achieving a compounded annual growth rate of 4.2% in the long-term.

Unfortunately, many African airports suffer from certain issues that prevent the application of ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (ICAO SARPs). They include:

  • A low level of knowledge of security regulations;
  • Inadequate and often outdated documentation; and
  • Unmaintained aviation security-equipment

While some airports have implemented sound security and safety programmes in accordance with ICAO SARPs, others have failed to do so due to a lack of national legislation and oversight, equipment or staff training and local supervision.

Many of these issues and more will be discussed at the 27th ACI Africa/World Annual General Assembly, Conference and Exhibition in Port Louis, Mauritius, which has the theme of ‘Bold leadership in a time of change’ and is expected to attract 500 airport professionals from across the globe.

The theme recognises the fact that whatever the set of changes, airports play a crucial role in the economic and social health of communities, countries, regions and the world at large, and they must craft a strategy for their sustainable development to continue providing those benefits.

In terms of the sustainable growth of African airports, the conference will highlight ACI initiatives such as the Airport Excellence (APEX) in Security programme that helps airports understand where they can make improvements with regards to security standards, as well as in operational efficiency and the passenger experience.

The APEX programme is a voluntary review programme that enables airports to benefit from the experience of other security experts. Review teams look at all aspects of security, depending on the needs of the airport, which result in a set of recommendations and an action plan.

ACI Africa’s new development programme for the region’s airports will also be launched at the event. The new initiative is designed to help and assist member airports to improve and respond to different challenges, including those posed by security operations, and achieve professional excellence in the application of international standards and best practices.

Each ACI Africa Member airport can benefit from this programme according to the priorities and availability of funds.

But funding isn’t the only aspect of the development programme, it also includes training, technical assistance, and capacity building and expertise development through access to ACI Global Training and the APEX programme.

The Mauritius conference programme is impressive and features a series of meetings, forums and panel discussions on key subjects including recognising leadership; creating a strong security culture; learning from the world’s best airports in customer experience; taxes, connectivity and sustainable tourism; and, the airport digital transformation.

I hope you agree that it is an action packed agenda that promises to deliver airports with the tools and strategies they need to survive and successfully compete in an ever changing industry.

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